The going was slow along the trails at Circle Creek the afternoon of Oct. 25 during the North Coast Land Conservancy’s Fall Fungi Frolic.
However, the small group of participants was less interested in getting from a specific Point A to Point B as quickly as possible than they were in observing the treasure trove of mycelium and mushrooms along the way.
“Mushrooms are super cool, super important parts of our ecosystems,” Land Steward Eric Owen told participants before leading them out onto the 364-acre Circle Creek property for the conservancy’s final “On the Land” outing of the 2019 season.
As the group meandered along the verdant trails, still damp and muddy from the autumn rain that had fallen early that day, the participants enjoyed their discoveries in numerous ways — discussing the various fungi they happened upon, collecting small specimens to take back to the Circle Creek Conservation Center to identify, snapping pictures, and even hand-drawing images of the mushrooms.
As Owen pointed out to the group, there are four main classifications of fungi: the chytridiomycota, zygomycota, ascomycota, and basidiomycota. Fungi in their various forms are both prolific and critical to a wide range of habitats, with scientists estimating as many as 90% of plant species relying on them for life. More and more, emerging research in the field of mycology is exploring the sentience of fungi, their genetic and biochemical properties, and how they interact with soil, plants, and one another.
Owen recommended the participants keep hard copies of field guides and other references to help identify and learn more about the different species they find at their own property or when out mushroom-hunting.
“Use all the resources available to you,” he said.
Living off the land
Kristin Koptiuch, who moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Rockaway Beach in June, has recently embraced the study of mycology as a way to adapt to and explore her new environment, interact with the specific landscape of the North Oregon Coast, and “use what grows on the land.”
In the past month, she has attended three mushroom workshops and events — including the Fall Fungi Frolic — and she was planning to attend a fourth in the coming week.
Koptiuch’s interest is learning where to scavenge for mushrooms, how to identify them, and how to use them for medicine, food, and other purposes. Based on her research so far, she is especially excited about finding the popular King Bolete mushroom, which is “supposed to have the best flavor,” she said.
Gearhart resident Pat Wollner, who demonstrated her enthusiasm and knowledge of the mycelium network frequently throughout the outing, said there tend to be two groups of fungi enthusiasts: those who are interested in finding edible varieties to cook with and use for practical purposes, and those who are enamored with the fascinating – and often slimy — world of fungi, including mold and yeast. Regardless, when it comes to studying mycology, “some of the best people do it,” she joked.
Wollner got interested in scavenging for and researching fungi about two years ago. Since then, she said, “it’s kind of consumed me.
“I am so enthusiastic about the whole science of the thing, the whole mycelium network,” she said, adding, “It’s so diverse.”